BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL MAN Blasts Gender Roles in Film and Television Through Satire
What would a world where women held power and men were nothing more than eye-candy and tools for reproduction look like? How would women maintain that power, and what would happen to the men who lived there?
Factory Theatre's BEAUTIFUL MAN, directed by Andrea Donaldson, looks at all of this and more with exceptional use of satire - sometimes funny, sometimes frightening, and always accurate to what women experience in their day-to-day life.
The women of BEAUTIFUL MAN are crude, outspoken, and blunt when talking about their favourite show - a detective drama starring Rosie, the alcoholic and surly lead whose personality is an exact clone of any leading man from a police serial. As Rosie watches television, the audience is dropped into a rabbit hole of shows within shows depicting women as leaders and men as secondary subjects. Whether they're the best detectives on the force, the queen of a kingdom, an Amazonian warrior, an ancient Roman politician, or a cave woman, the female characters are the focus while male roles are relegated to silent, nameless characters whose main purpose is to be beautiful.
While Jennifer (Ashley Botting), Sophie (Mayko Nguyen) and Pam (Sofía Rodríguez) perch on stools at the front of the stage, their conversation ebbs and flows with each woman's opinions. Botting is the comical force, often taking the simple route of praising a character or director by saying that "she's so f**king good!" Contrasting her is Nguyen's insight, as she frequently delves into the details of why the protagonists might act as they do with sharp wit and quick corrections of her colleagues. Of the three women, Rodríguez is more concerned with the political nature of the shows but tends to get lost when working to hold ground with the other leads.
The placement of the Beautiful Man (Jesse LaVercombe) in a beautifully lighted (lighting design by Jason Hand), elevated white box (set design by Gillian Gallow) forces audiences to see him through the women's descriptions. He spends nearly the entirety of the play posing and when he speaks, it's limited to short phrases and deep sighs. As the stories the women describe progress, he becomes more and more an object through the removal of his clothing until he's completely vulnerable.
Because of the satirical nature of BEAUTIFUL MAN, the narrative relies on the audience's ability to think critically of the film and television content they consume. There are parts where the script abandons comedy for the horrors of reality, and a fantastic, jarring final monologue delivered by LaVercombe is contrasted beautifully to Botting, Nguyen and Rodríguez's inability and unwillingness to understand.
BEAUTIFUL MAN is a deeply insightful criticism of gender roles enforced by society through the media we consume, ranging from discussions about domestic abuse, rape, and the exploitation of power over individuals - even referring to the #MeToo movement during a scene about interns and a powerful director. While it would be wonderful to say that society has changed in the few years since it was written, that would be untrue - so for as long as women are held to the same standards as they have been for hundreds of years, BEAUTIFUL MAN will remain a relevant piece of work regarding gender roles and objectification.
BEAUTIFUL MAN runs through May 26 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.factorytheatre.ca/2018-19-season/beautiful-man/
Main image credit: Joseph Michael Photography